Studies of cosmonauts and astronauts who spent months on space station Mir revealed that space travelers can lose, on average, one-to-two percent of bone mass each month, with the greatest loss in the lower extremities like the femur and hip. The culprit is microgravity, which causes bone loss in critical areas and leaves bones susceptible to fracture upon return to Earth.
Space travelers are not the only demographic concerned with bone loss. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, at least 10 million people in the United States suffer from bone loss in the form of osteoporosis.
"Because bone weakening is a potentially serious side-effect of extended spaceflight, we're developing a high-resolution ultrasound imaging device that can monitor and diagnose bone quantity, density and strength in space," said Dr. Yi-Xian Qin, associate team leader of NSBRI's technology development team. "We're currently in the beginning phases of development, but eventually this technology can aid diagnosis for a number of skeletal disorders."
The real-time, high-resolution, portable imaging device will use scanned, confocal ultrasound for generating images in regions of interest and identifying problems or risk factors. For flight surgeons on the ground, the SCAD will help to quickly determine the rate of bone loss, severity of injuries and possibilities for recovery.
"It will also provide immediate images of bone and assess both density and stiffness data," said Qin, associate professor in
Contact: Lauren Hammit
National Space Biomedical Research Institute